Autism: understanding and applying emotion regulation skills in children with autism

Carolien Rieffe PhD

Despite stereotypical ideas on autism, normally intelligent or ‘high functioning’ children with autism spectrum disorders (HFASD) often display an adequate understanding of basic emotions of others and of themselves. In the present line of research we examine their more advanced emotional abilities, e.g. using emotional display rules and understanding mixed or implicit emotions, and factors involved in the actual use of these abilities in daily life situations. Recent results include, for example, the finding that children with HFASD show an adequate ability to reason about emotions, but strongly rely on theoretical knowledge. Special attention is also given to children’s understanding of and coping with their own emotions, which has received little attention in the research literature to date.


The origins of emotion control

In order to interact with others properly, you need to be able to control your emotions. This involves the ability to acknowledge your own emotions and to know how to communicate these most effectively. For autistic children this seems to be problematic but the origins of this lack of emotion control are unclear. Are these children more easily aroused than their peers? Do they lack insight into the communicative function of emotions? By using mood induction techniques and by varying the salience of a goal (i.e., reaching a personal or a social goal) we aim to study the origins of emotion control.

Researchers involved: Carolien Rieffe


Prize for Carolien and Lizet for their article on Autism

Publications on autism


News Archive Autism

New collaboration with Peking University on autism

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In September 2016, Focus on Emotions lab (Carolien, Boya, and Marieke Bos) started a collaboration with Professor Li Yi from Developmental and Pedagogical Psychology at Peking University, China, to investigate emotion understanding in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the Netherlands and in China. This two-year joint research project is funded by The KNAW NWO China Committee, under a large-scaled China Exchange Program sponsored by the Dutch ministry of OCW (Education, Culture and Science). Dr. Ingrid d'Hooghe, the China advisor and coordinator of Leiden University, visited Professor Yi in Peking University on the 15th of November and had a joyful meeting. The two parties are both excited about this new collaboration, which may be a good start of a long-term research cooperation that not only promotes cooperative knowledge sharing but more importantly broadens and deepens our knowledge in the field of ASD research. To know more about this project, you can read the news article posted by Leiden University here (English version) or here (Dutch version).


Usability of tablets in ASD-Research

August 28 2015, Polly Oskam (LIACS, Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science) successfully defended her thesis on the use of tablets in non-speaking individuals with a severe form of Autism Spectrum Disorder.During her Graduation Presentation, Evelien was present to ask critical questions.

28Aug Under supervision of Jaap van den Herik (LIACS) and Carolien, Polly examined whether the individuals with  ASD were able to learn using the touch-based interface of a tablet. The outcomes of her study are promising.  Whilst not introduced to a tablet before, participants acquired the basics (i.e., pointing and drag-and-drop)  within a short amount of time. After a few sessions, some were able to independently solve simple jigsaw  puzzles. The outcomes of Polly’s study also indicated that individuals with a severe form of ASD needed an  intellectual challenging online environment to stay motivated..


ISRE - Conference on emotions

The biannual conference of the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE) was hosted in Geneva in July (2015). Researchers from various disciplines involved in the study of emotion from all over the world shared the results of their

ISRE symposium ASDwork at this unique conference. Dr. Andrea Samson had initiated and chaired a symposium that focussed on emotion regulation in children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Carolien contributed to this session by presenting our latest findings on this topic. Nico Frijda, who passed away this Spring was one of the founding fathers of the ISRE. A special symposium was hosted to honor him during the ISRE conference 'What emotions really are: The legacy of Nico Frijda'. Here you can read the blog that Carolien wrote in honor of Nico Frijda.

Smartwatch to support children with ASD

 FridayMarieke de Bruine SmartwatchJune 26nd (2015), Jasper Scheffel (LIACS, Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science) successfully  defended his thesis about the Pictoguide; a novel Smartwatch, which Jasper had designed especially for  children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.This device was designed to support children’s independent  execution of complex multi-step activities. Fons Verbeek (LIACS), Annette van Zijp (Centre for Autism),  Marieke de Bruine and Carolien supervised Jasper, and Marieke was now present to ask Jasper some critical  questions. The outcomes of Jasper’s study showed that the Pictoguide was truly helpful for the children and  their teachers, and that it is a good alternative for visual schedules.



 Carolien in the media about autism 20 April 2015
 Posters presented at National Autism Conference 30 March 2015
 Kanner lecture 24 March 2015
 Understanding other minds in young children with Autism 10 January 2015
Paper in press! 12 June 2014
Congratulations Dr Lucinda! 14 January 2014
Paper accepted 18 November 2013
EmotionWeb training 02 October 2013
Autism Week 31 March 2013
ASD papers in press 23 January 2013
Award for best research paper 16 October 2012
Special issue on Social Cognitions; bullying and victimization in Autism 04 June 2012
ASD conference Toronto 18 April 2012